The Wallabies head to Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night to face the All Blacks in the final home test of the year.
With the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup firmly stowed in the Kiwi cabinet, the Wallabies are out for pride. 2017 has been a real mixed bag but there’s a sense that the Aussies are slowly but surely trending upward.
If there was any extra motivation needed, it can be drawn from the indigenous jersey the Wallabies will wear for the first time. Far from being a token gesture, it aims to acknowledge Australia’s history and signal the start of a broader development scheme.
Here’s the bad news: Australia has only beaten New Zealand once in their last 18 attempts ‒ a sequence that also includes two draws.
They got close in Dunedin in August, but that final step towards a comprehensive 80-minute performance is a massive one.
For the Wallabies, Izack Rodda is out, opting for shoulder surgery with a view to a more comfortable 2018.
With Rory Arnold still racking up NRC minutes, it’s Rob Simmons who will pack down in the second row. Ned Hanigan rejoins the bench.
Despite Karmichael Hunt’s recovery from an ankle problem, Michael Cheika has resisted the urge to include him in the matchday squad.
The only change for the All Blacks is Lima Sopoaga to start at 10, with talisman Beauden Barrett ruled out due to concussion.
Sopoaga has impressed off the bench this season and shown laser accuracy from the kicking tee. The Crusaders’ David Havili gets the vacant bench spot.
1. Scott Sio 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau 3. Sekope Kepu 4. Rob Simmons 5. Adam Coleman 6. Jack Dempsey 7. Michael Hooper (c) 8. Sean McMahon 9. Will Genia 10. Bernard Foley 11. Reece Hodge 12. Kurtley Beale 13. Tevita Kuridrani 14. Marika Koroibete 15. Israel Folau
Subs: 16. Stephen Moore 17. Tom Robertson 18. Allan Alaalatoa 19. Lukhan Tui 20. Ned Hanigan 21. Nick Phipps 22. Samu Kerevi 23. Henry Speight
1. Kane Hames 2. Dane Coles 3. Nepo Laulala 4. Sam Whitelock 5. Scott Barrett 6. Liam Squire 7. Sam Cane 8. Kieran Read (c) 9. Aaron Smith 10. Lima Sopoaga 11. Rieko Ioane 12. Sonny Bill Williams 13. Ryan Crotty 14. Waisake Naholo 15. Damian McKenzie
Subs: 16. Codie Taylor 17. Wyatt Crockett 18. Ofa Tu’ungafasi 19. Patrick Tuipulotu 20. Matt Todd 21. TJ Perenara 22. Anton Lienert-Brown 23. David Havili
Both sides should be refreshed following a week off. There’s definitely more to play for from an Australian perspective, but the Kiwis will be hoping to top their perfect Rugby Championship performance with a cherry.
The Springboks gave the All Blacks a mighty scare in Cape Town, just as the Wallabies did in Dunedin.
You can read that two ways ‒ that the chasing pack is getting closer, or that even when you play your best, the All Blacks will find a way to beat you.
A win ‒ albeit a dead rubber ‒ would change the complexion of 2017 for Cheika. It’s been a year in which the Wallabies have graduated from hopeless to promising. If they stumble again, they’re back to square one.
I think we’ve seen enough to know that the Wallabies are at least capable of causing an upset.
If the scrum and lineout can hold firm and no one does anything silly (I’m looking at you, Rob Simmons) I think the home side will claw their way to a win.
Wallabies by 2.